By Gab Ejuwa
It was Williams Shakespeare who once said “…in my stars I am above thee but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
In relation to this, Anthony Grey, alias Ozimba or Tony Grey as the name was popularly shortened, was certainly a Deltan, a Nigerian and an individual who achieved greatness by hard work, great vision and zeal for excellence in his chosen profession of music, despite not being born great.
I first set my eyes on this quintessential showbiz personality, known for starting every musical performance with prayers and the Nigerian national anthem, sometime in 1977, when I was returning in the company of other students from school in a late afternoon. This was at our residence at Ikom Road, off Macpherson Street, Sapele. There was a buzz of excitement in front of our house. I could see from a distance that people were generally gravitating towards a particular spot in the compound as if to corner a share of whatever goodies that were being shared there. Getting there, I saw a group of other curious neighbours and passers-by, admiring a flashy brand new car parked beside our house. From the animated discussion and tell-tale gesticulations going on, I gathered that the car was called Citroen – a French car that was famed to have the gadgetry and ability to take off into the sky at the touch of a button should the need arise. Someone in a floral print dress volunteered smugly, as the priviledged purveyor of this piece of information.
Naturally, by this time, I was very curious and excited as I bulldozed my way into the crush of bodies to get at this fabled object of everyone’s admiration. I could see a name ran across the length of the car in floridly embroidered letters: Tony Grey Ozimba – which I speculated upon, dumbfounded. I tried to click on the mental wires of my brains, juggling their connections frenetically for a little byte of information, but I drew blank, try as I did to recognize the name.
Then suddenly, my grandmother and one of my sisters emerged from our house, accompanied by a handsome tall man wreathed in smiles. That was the very first time of meeting Tony Grey, and from that moment, I dutifully thought about him, although he was to frequent our house from that time onwards, constantly dropping one gift or the other for us, before he got married to my said sister. A happy marriage indeed blessed with three girls and a boy.
Tony started out with football. In point of fact, a fast-reflexed goalkeeper then known as Abumalaya, reputed for saving even penalties; playing for a club known as Inland Waterways, a Federal Government parastatal in Warri.
However, having his biggest gifts in singing, songwriting, dancing and multi-instrumental playing, Tony dove headlong into music and broke into the pop scene after cutting his musical teeth with the legendary King Kenny Tone, a highlife maestro. Heading bands like the Lidonians, Black Kings and others, Tony dished out many copyright hits to night clubbers from Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones, James Brown and Wilson Picket, especially their hit songs. He also recorded many hit local albums with the GES studio of Warri which pulsated in homes and nightclubs all over the nation then. She‘s my love (1973), Ijudo (1972), Come back love (1975), Congratulations (1976), My message (1977), Oh, my darling (1978), God is Good (gospel)(1996), Higher Higher (gospel)(1999), God is Good 2 (2010). The turning point in his career was his musical tribute to Marvin Gaye – an African- American soul singer and instrumentalist who thrilled the world with hits, like, Let’s Get it on, Sexual Healing, etc., in an ambitious musical initiative which climaxed in Tony’s touring the United States.
As a result of Tony’s musical artistry and hard-headed business acumen, he finally crowned his endeavours with a spacious parcel of land in his Warri base, where he erected not only his personal house but also an avant-garde nightclub – Cruiseland, at First Marine Gate, which hosted gigs, receptions, meetings and parties before his health nosedived.
Even before this, Tony had used his music to placate the warring camps during the famous or rather infamous, Warri crisis. It is on record that when many people were rooting for war and ethnic cleansing, this musical prophet breathed and sang peace and harmony among the ethnic groups, thus pouring oil on troubled waters. His music performed a social function of preaching against both inter and intra-ethnic harmony.
But like all good things, “Ozimbaism” could not last forever and Tony began to deteriorate in health. Consequently, he was hospitalized at Capitol Hill Hospital which according to reliable sources, really tried for him to regain his health, but to no avail.
Dear Tony, although you are gone, but your spirit and memory lives on. According to Williams Shakespeare – “When beggars die no comets are seen, the heaven themselves blaze forth the death of kings”
In life and death, you were a king of music, continue to rest in peace.